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Raymond Griffith Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (1) | Trade Mark (1) | Trivia (13) | Personal Quotes (3)

Overview (4)

Date of Birth 23 January 1895Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Date of Death 25 November 1957Masquers Club, Los Angeles, California, USA  (Asphyxia due to partially masticated food)
Nicknames Silk Hat Harry
Ray
Height 5' 6" (1.68 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Raymond Griffith was born on January 23, 1895 in Boston, Massachusetts into a theatrical family. His parents, James Henry Griffith and Mary Guichard, were both actors, as were his grandfather, Gerald Griffith, and his great grandfather, Thomas Griffith. Young Raymond made his stage debut when he was 15 months old and by the age of seven played the eponymous lead in "Little Lord Fauntleroy." By the time he was eight, he was playing a female role in "Ten Nights in a Barroom."

A childhood case of respiratory diphtheria permanently damaged his vocal chords, and when he was a young boy, Raymond lost his voice while playing a part in "The Witching Hour." "Photoplay" magazine's May 1925 issue reported that his voice went out while he was letting out a scream as his character was about to be beaten, as was required by the script.

"The audience heard a piercing shriek from the boy as he cringed before the whip. That was all. The terror on the boy's face was the terror of realism; he was stricken dumb. He could not speak a line after that scream. He has never spoken a line from the stage since then. His recovery was so gradual that he could not speak above a whisper for years, and he has never recovered the full carrying power, which the stage demands."

The loss of voice was permanent. No longer able to act, Raymond joined a circus, then worked as a dancer and dance teacher at New York City's Grand Central Palace. He subsequently joined the vaudeville circuit, eventually undertaking a European tour with a company of French pantomimists.

Eventually, he joined the U.S. Navy in 1910, when he was 15 years old, and served a two year hitch. Many sources claim his both year as 1890, which likely is the date he gave the Navy in order to enlist.

It has been claimed that after his discharge, he went to California in 1914 where he was hired as an extra by Vitagraph while visiting a friend on a set. Another story has him arriving in California as part of a vaudeville tour and staying to appear in the movies, getting his first job with Kalem in 1915. What is known for sure is that he was working for the L-KO Motion Picture Kompany in 1915, and that he left the studio in early 1916 to work for Mack Sennett, probably primarily as a gag man and scenario writer, though he did perform in Sennett's comedy shorts.

Except for a brief stay at Fox, Griffith worked for Sennett until moving to Triangle in 1917, where he worked as a movie comedian as well as a gagman and scenario writer. Drafted for service in World War I, Griffith was not inducted because of his vocal problems.

Griffith returned to Sennett in 1918, and stayed with him for three years. Eventually, he did less acting and focused more on scenario writing. Leaving Sennett in June 1921 for Marshall Neilan, Griffith returned to acting. The association with Neilan lasted until the Fall of 1922, when he signed with Goldwyn Pictures.

Griffith's first movie for his new studio was the mystery-melodrama "Red Lights" (1924). He appeared in Tod Browning's "The Day of Faith (1923)" with Eleanor Boardman and 'Tyrone Power, Sr.' and "The White Tiger" (1923) with Priscilla Dean and Wallace Beery for Goldwyn, though the latter film was ultimately released by Universal. After the Browning picture, Griffith made just one more movie for Goldwyn, "Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model" (1924) with Hobart Bosworth and Mae Busch before signing on with Famous Players-Lasky (Paramount).

During his Goldwyn period, Griffith created an acting style uniquely his own that was a hybrid of the comedic and the dramatic. In his Goldwyn films he played detectives & journalists and characters not entirely on the side of the law. His characters were not explicitly comic, but the characterizations were infused with Griffith's panache, spiced with comic business that occasionally crossed the threshold into slapstick. The style often tipped the scenarios over into farce. It was this style that attracted the attention of Paramount.

The first movie Griffith made at Paramount was Cecil B. DeMille's "Changing Husbands" (1924). His turn in "Paths to Paradise" (1925) won him the highest critical praise, and "Screenland" predicted that he would soon become Charles Chaplin's top rival. In 1926, he made the Civil War comedy "Hands Up!" (1926) that is widely considered his best comedy. Movie critic Walter Kerr wrote in his 1975 book "The Silent Clowns "'Hands Up!' contains some work that is daring ­for its period, certainly ­ and some that is masterfully delicate, the work of an inventive, unaggressive, amiably iconoclastic intelligence."

He continued to do highly praised work in 1926, but his two films of 1927 failed to engender positive reviews. Griffith and Paramount subsequently terminated his contract "by mutual consent."

On January 8, 1928, Raymond Griffith married the stage and film actress Bertha Mann, and they spent a six-month honeymoon in Europe. Griffith didn't appear in any movies in 1928, although he reportedly had several projects in development, including one with 'Howard Hughes' (qv. The couple's first child, Raymond, Jr., tragically was stillborn on June 6, 1929. They had a second child, Michael, who was born on July 16, 1931, and adopted a daughter, Patricia, in 1933. They were married almost 29 years, until Griffith's death.

When Griffith returned to movie-making, he was faced with the prospect of sound. He soldiered on despite his vocal handicap, and made two sound short subjects in 1929.

Alas, it was impossible to be a featured actor in the new medium with a voice that barely rose above a whisper. He made one last appearance, uncredited, as the French soldier whom Lew Ayres mortally wounds and then shares his shell-hole for the night in the classic All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). Because of his wounds, the French soldier cannot speak above a whisper, which enabled Griffith to play the role. The scene, in which the French soldier slowly dies, is made harrowing and haunting by Griffith's performance. Griffith's final appearance onscreen turned out to be one of the most memorable in movie history.

Griffith retired from acting, but not from the movies. He continued to work in the movie industry as a production supervisor and associate producer.

Raymond Griffith was dining at Los Angeles' Masquers Club, a private establishment for actors and producers, on November 25, 1957, when he choked on some food and died of asphyxia. He was 62 years old.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood

Spouse (1)

Bertha Mann (8 January 1928 - 25 November 1957) (his death) (2 children)

Trade Mark (1)

At the height of his popularity, he usually played charming, elegant and somewhat unemotional characters who always wore a silk hat.

Trivia (13)

Had to quit acting when sound came along due to the fact that his vocal cords had been damaged when he was younger and he could only talk in a whisper.
Biography in: "Who's Who in Comedy" by Ronald L. Smith, pg. 196-197. New York: Facts on File, 1992. ISBN 0816023387
His parents, James Henry Griffith and Mary Guichard (she was born in France), along with his grandfather, Gerald Griffith, and great grandfather, Thomas Griffith, were all actors.
According to "Classic Images," Griffith was born in 1895. Most obituaries incorrectly list his birth year as either 1890 or 1897.
Contracted respiratory diptheria as a child which permanently damaged his vocal chords.
Served in the Navy (1910-1912).
Served as a gagman, writer and assistant director for Mack Sennett'.
First child, Raymond Griffith, Jr. was stillborn on June 6, 1929, their second child, Michael, was born on July 16, 1931. They adopted their daughter Patricia in 1933.
On November 25, 1957, he was having dinner at The Masquers Club, a private club for actors and producers in Los Angeles, when he choked on some food and died. The newspapers initially listed his cause of death as a heart attack. An autopsy reveal he died of asphyxia.
While rarely credited as a writer, Griffith did, in fact, apparently co-write more movies than he appeared in as an actor.
In 2005, Griffith's most well known comedy, Hands Up! (1926) was included in the National Film Registry.
His daughter recalls that he was an avid reader of classic literature, and that he probably got much inspiration for the stories of his movies from this interest.
Although Griffith had a long career as an actor, writer and producer, he is probably best known to modern audiences for his small but pivotal role in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) as the French soldier who takes cover in the same shell crater as German soldier Lew Ayres, who stabs him with a bayonet and is then forced to spend the night watching him die.

Personal Quotes (3)

The most difficult, the most delicate, the most interesting, and a very worthwhile job is that of making people laugh.
Comedies must be clean and wholesome. That is very important. We may laugh at the joke of a comedy situation that is off-color, but we don't mean it. The laugh is no more sincere when the cause is the man slipping and falling on a banana peel.
Repetition in comedy is very funny at times and other times not. Nothing is more overdone, and nothing is more awful when it is overdone. You can do a stunt just once too often and spoil the whole effect. An assortment of crockery hurled with unerring aim and in quick succession at a fleeing form provokes uncontrollable laughter that increases with every plate that flies, up to a certain point. Beyond that, the situation palls.

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